Schumann program brings out the best from Katsaris and colleagues

By Lawrence Budmen

Pianist Cyprien Katsaris led al all-Schumann program Tuesday night for Friends of Chamber Music.

Pianist Cyprien Katsaris led an all-Schumann program Tuesday night for Friends of Chamber Music.

Pianist Cyprien Katsaris and three first-rate string players presented an all Schumann program for Friends of Chamber Music on Tuesday night.  Playing the superb Bosendorfer at Coral Gables Congregational Church, Katsaris encompassed the impulsive romanticism and lyricism of Schumann’s solo keyboard and chamber scores in his typically individualistic manner.

Combining a big-boned, take-no-prisoners technique with an arresting musical personality, Katsaris launched the evening with an unusually brisk version of the Arabeske in C Major. His shapely reading of Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood) ranged from deliberate and dreamy to lightning-fast, attentive to both the playful dance rhythms and outpouring of wordless song. Employing judicious rubato, Katsaris offered a delicately nuanced “Traumerei.” In the less familiar “Blumenstuck” (Flower Piece), he shaped a flowing lyrical line and demonstrated impressive digital dexterity in fleet passages.

Violist Roberto Diaz joined Katsaris for the four Marchenbilder (Fairy Tale Pictures). President of the Curtis Institute and former principle viola of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Diaz’s playing exhibited deep tonal resonance. In the Langsam, Diaz’s slow, expansive shaping of the melodic  line was matched by the larger sound he drew from his instrument.

The concert’s first half was a prelude to the main event, an incisive and exciting, performance of the Piano Quartet in E-flat Major. Substituting for the originally scheduled Mikhail Simonyan, violinist Timothy Fain, a contemporary music specialist, brought fire and acute sensitivity to Schumann’s high-wire writing. Fain’s bright sound added a touch of sinew, blending well with the darker string voices of Diaz and cellist William DeRosa. For all his bravura pianism, Katsaris displayed strong collaborative skills, at times playing softly beneath the dominant string lines.

After a stately introduction, the players attacked the Allegro ma non troppo in an unforced manner with a fine sense of ebb and flow. The hairpin turns of dynamics and relentless rhythmic pulse of the Scherzo were energetically conveyed.

DeRosa’s voluminous cello and noble phrasing captured the beauty of the Andante cantabile’s principle melody. In the movement’s finale, the musicians’ perfect intonation and strong teamwork was particularly impressive.

Taken at a rapid clip, the final Vivace gained in cumulative power, the fugal lines always cleanly articulated and transparent, with keen attention to the score’s volatile mood swings. The standing ovation from a large and enthusiastic audience was well deserved.

Friends of Chamber Music season continues 8 p.m. October 17 at Coral Gables Congregational Church with pianist Anton Kuerti in an all-Beethoven recital. 305-372-2975;

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Wed Oct 2, 2013
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